Somewhere in Northern Alabama, a photographer takes pictures to help support her family. She is shooting weddings, events, portraits and a variety of other images. Her fingers work magic with her Canon digital camera, a replacement for her longtime Nikon which she loved so much, but had to part with in order to make ends meet. Hers is a life of creativity-meeting-reality, in which the tapestry of existence has both sunlight and shadow, a life of literal blood, sweat and tears.
Her name is Olivia Gracey; photographer, writer, and mother, though not necessarily in that order. She prizes her two sons; “they are my life,” she says. This Oklahoma-born mother of two has survived the trials to bring her creativity to life. Like many photographers, she loved the art at a young age. Snapping pictures since 11 years old, when she first used a 110 (cartridge film) camera then, later on, a Polaroid, Gracey’s skills developed – no pun intended – with the equipment at hand. Her parents knew this love and fostered it, “My first Canon was a used AE-1 given to me by my mom for my high school grad gift.”
She was unable to take any sort of photography class in high school, “I went to school in a small Oklahoma town that didn’t offer anything like that.” Still, she persevered and learned through her own experience. As with life, Gracey’s took many twists and turns until she was able to start shooting again, beginning with working for her stepfather’s chain of video stores in northern Alabama before getting married to an engineer in the mid-1990s. When her first son was born in 1998, she finally was able to purchase another camera and began anew working on her love. Her work was focused on her son’s lives, family events and pets, though nothing professional.
Like so many creative photographers, her craft evolved beyond the camera into other avenues. She expanded into writing when she published The Allow Factor, an erotic romance, in 2014. While it was modestly successful, Gracey admits a desire to enhance her marketing skills in the future. A couple of years later, she published her next book, Sailing Alice Marie, but then pushed with earnest back into photography in 2016.
“I signed up to shoot for AMP marketing then which shoots Google Street View,” she said, “upgraded all my photography equipment, then I jumped into real-estate in 2017. I started shooting for Meero (France) shooting Airbob, UberEats, Spaces, then Huntsville Event Magazine in March 2019.”
At this point, things began to click. Despite now being divorced, working to make ends meet in both real estate and as a bartender, she became an unrelenting pillar for her sons. Still, it has not been an easy road for Gracey, “I was shooting with a Nikon D810, sweet cam, and a friend dropped it. (They) busted the whole face off.
“It was restored by Nikon,” she said. “Last week, in desperate need of funds, I sold my arsenal; D810, lenses, and decided to flip to a Canon my studio partner has for sale. Tough decision for me. After hours of prayer I felt it was the right thing to do. Of course two days later I panicked; my cam is my lifeblood.”
Then came the most unkind irony of all, “I went back to the shop to pick it up – it sold in less than 24 hrs.” Now working with a Canon, Gracey admits it hasn’t been an easy transition, “they don’t speak the same language.”
She had become so accustomed to the Nikon, working with a new Canon was like learning a new language. Still, she faced the challenge the same way she had all the others – with a good attitude. Now she has full control over her work and is constantly adjusting as she goes, looking for that magic moment to capture. What was first viewed as a curse became a blessing, “My studio partner has forced me into learning to shoot full on manual which was a hard thing to do at first. Now it’s a blessing. I like having control over what I shoot.”
Despite the difficulty with the equipment transition, Gracey’s overall work reflects an ability to bring out the moment colorful of moments and evoke emotions in a way only a creative photographer can. Whether it’s food, headshots, events, or landscapes, her work demonstrates what a woman in a male-dominated industry can achieve when faith meets grit and drive. Like many artists, she suffered from butterflies when she finally began doing professional events. She admitted being terrified before her first major shoot for Huntsville Events, in which she had to capture two doctors talking in a room full of women. This shoot, one which had major implications on new business possibilities, had her petrified.
“I had five seconds to set the cam to get the perfect shot lighting them up perfectly with all the women in the background on a dark stage,” she recalls, proud of her accomplishment. “I sweated that one. That was my first Huntsville Event Magazine shoot – nailed it!”
Having lived in two eras – one where film was dominant and now today’s digital age – her opinion of the difference between the mediums is clear: digital. “ I think overall, they’ve come a long way in the quality and color, much more vivid.” As for budding photographers, she recommends a simple camera and equipment to start with, “train your eye for it and then it won’t matter what you shoot with.”
As a creative, Gracey is not one to mince worlds what her favorite shoot is – her sons. Still, she does have a bucket list shoot, the streets of Italy. She admits her photography high point thus part was a short junket to New York City, where she got a chance to snap amazing pictures of Manhattan, and life a little of the high life, if only for a few days (her promotion headshot, shown a the top of this article, was taken during that trip). Gracey’s life is a portrait of life lived in fullest pursuit of her passions, as evidenced by her hashtag, #MakeItAmazing. She can be found practicing her craft at Olivia Gracey Shoots. In the end, her life is about being a creative who can live every day without regret.
Samples of her work, found on her Facebook page, gives viewers a glimpse into her photographic talents, which can be best described as Madison Avenue-meets-Country Living. From a pure subjective standpoint, Olivia Gracey is an up-and-coming talent who will make the Yellowhammer State proud for years to come.